In in a little less than two weeks, the Great Detectives of Old Time Radio will turn its attention to an almost forgotten character who appeared in books, radio, and movies for over a century.
Nick Carter made his debut in 1886, the year before Sherlock Holmes came on the scene in London. That’s where the comparison ends. None of Carter’s mysteries or adventures were in the ballpark of the greatest detective of them all, but what Carter didn’t have in quality, he made up for (as best he could) in quantity with hundreds of novels and short stories being written.
Scores of Carter’s books from his first 37 years are in the public domain. The Nick Carter Collection from Halycon Press for Kindle has one and only one virtue: you can find all the books therein without having to search for them in online. Otherwise, most of these can easily be obtained off Project Gutenberg for free.
Nick Carter was a corporate property with multiple authors writing the stories and what exactly Nick’s adventures liked really seemed to depend on who was writing the story and probably the trends of the day.
Looking at the novels in the Nick Carter Collection, The Crime of the French Cafe and Nick Carter’s Ghost Story are both somewhat typical classic mystery stories. The solutions aren’t amazing, but they’re not weak stories either.
The Mystery of St. Agnes’ Hospital adds an element of the macabre and wasn’t as good a story. The Great Spy System decided to become an espionage adventure acting on behalf of the President (then Theodore Roosevelt) to track down some Japanese spies. Both of these stories contained an inordinant amount of racial stuff with on World Wars to even justify it. The racism seemed to be more or less isolated to these two novels, at least among the ones I read.
The novel, The Link of Steel was only a so-so detective adventure story. The final book in the collection was actually the best which is unfortunate if you’re buying the collection as many people will have stopped reading hundreds of pages before they arrive at this one. In A Woman at Bay, Nick Carter goes undercover to capture the king of a criminal empire of hobos to find out the king is actually a teenage girl named Black Madge. He’s able to capture her, but that’s just the beginning of the story. She won’t stay captured. If you want a really fun adventure story, A Woman at Bay is actually a diamond in the rough.
The Carter stories were discountinued in 1915, brought back from 1933-36, then in 1939 and ’40, there were three movies made. In 1943, Carter came to radio with Lon Clark as the star. The main thing the radio series borrowed from Carter was the Nick Carter brand that people had read in their childhood, for the better part of sixty years. They also borrowed the name of Nick’s assistants from the books, but made a key change. The Patsy introduced in the 19th century was a male detective, Patsy in the radio series was a female assistant. The series for an amazing 12 years.
But the Nick Carter brand wasn’t done. Nick Carter-Killmaster became a very successful spy series that would last from 1964-1990 and publish 260 paperback books.
For more than 100 years, Nick Carter brought excitement and action to Americans. There was little of what we call continuity. The Carter character like so many corporate properties was made and remade to suit the tastes of the public. The Nick Carter I read about had very little relation to the one I heard on the radio. The only continuity in Nick Carter was action and adventure.
However, by 1990, the Spy Genre was in decline and the Carter series was cancelled for good. Thus, the end of the Cold War succeeded in doing was hundreds of criminals and madmen around the world had failed to do:
Kill Nick Carter.
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